As anyone who has perused raw food websites, raw food cookbooks, or raw food books for more than about 5 minutes knows. young coconuts (mostly marketed as “young Thai coconuts”) are a fantastic source of all kinds of healthful goodness, and not only are they great for you, but they taste great as well. The liquid inside them, known as “coconut water” (as compared to the thick milky stuff you get with older coconuts) is incredibly good for you, low in calories, and tastes divine.

And the tender meat of a young coconut..only 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, and almost like Jello in consistency. It tastes fantastic, and is the basis for all sorts of yummy recipes, both main dish and dessert (like Annie’s Tropical Mousse).

You’ve probably seen them in the produce aisle, and maybe not even realized what they were, as they don’t look like the coconuts you are used to. That is because they are still covered with their outer fiber – the shell you are used to seeing is encased within that fiber, with the tender meat and coconut water housed within the still-thin shell.

Usually the fiber housing has been shaped, and so the young coconut looks something like this:

With all the great nutrition, taste, and versatility packed into one young coconut, they are a bargain at the $2.00 to $3.00 they cost.

But opening them is nearly as difficult as opening a more mature coconut, and because they are so wonderful, you will want to do that much more frequently than you probably open mature coconuts.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Here’s how to open them, and it’s quite simple:

First, you need to have a nice big heavy cleaver. Not the thin-as-a-razor kind you can get in so many shops, but a big meat cleaver meant for hacking through bones – one with plenty of heft. Henckels has a fantastic one that I use, and I’ll show it to you in a bit.

Now, put that coconut on a cutting board, on it’s side, and give it a really good whack with the cleaver, straight down into one of the slopes which leads to the point at the top of the coconut.

Hopefully that whack broke through into the inner shell enough so that you can now turn the coconut upside down over a bowl, and let it rest and drain out all the wonderful coconut water. (If it didn’t, give it another good whack, and another if necessary, until you can drain out the water.)

A small young coconut can contain as much as 1 1/2 cups or more of coconut water.

Once all of the coconut water is drained out, if you have the right cleaver for the job, like my Henckels, you can turn the coconut back on its side, insert the cleaver back into the slit you made, and actually just work the cleaver down, straight across the top of the coconut, neatly slicing off the tip, and opening up the coconut straight across – it will now look like a cup (in fact many Asian restaurants do exactly this, serving a coconut-based drink in this ‘cup’).

Inside the coconut, along the walls of the shell, you will see the tender young coconut meat. The best way to get this out is to take a rubber scraping spatula, and gently pry and scrape the meat away from the sides. Try to keep the pieces as large as possible, because lots of recipes call for cutting the meat into strips, and using it like a pasta.

But even if you can’t extract it in larger pieces, it’s wonderful for all kinds of recipes, including my Tropical Mousse.

This is the Henckels cleaver I have (click on the picture for full info, including pricing from Amazon):

Henckels International Classic Stainless Steel Meat Cleaver